Monday, November 11, 2013

E7, A Taxi For Boris: Iconic Taxi's, Are Their Days Numbered?

In a small upstairs office of a building on a sprawling industrial estate in the north of Glasgow, Paul Nelson is contemplating battle with the Mayor of London. Nelson is managing director of Allied Vehicles, a company built by two brothers from their father’s garage into Britain’s largest manufacturer of taxis and mobility vehicles. Their taxis are a common sight pretty much everywhere, except in the UK capital.



Boris Johnson is known for his love of tradition – he oversaw the re-introduction of the Routemaster bus in London, evoking a bygone era of ‘hop-on, hop-off” commuting – and is a stout defender of the iconic black cab. Transport for London, which licenses taxis in the city, insist that only this vehicle, made by the London Taxi Company, can operate – because of its ability to turn in narrow streets.

“Look at that,” Nelson says, pointing to a map of central London with streets marked in blue, “that’s the one-way system. There really is no need for the 25ft turning circle rule. And it’s an inherently dangerous manoeuvre anyway. What it’s really about is wanting to be different, to have its own distinct-looking taxi.”

Allied is pondering whether to take London to court on the grounds that it is in breach of competition rules and disability legislation. It did in the case of Liverpool, and won. But negotiation has also proved successful in other UK city hold-outs. London is not its only barrier to expansion; Coventry, where the London Taxi is assembled, retains the 25ft requirement.

But London would be a significant breakthrough. There are around 25,000 black cabs in the city with between 2000 and 3000 sold a year. The market outside London is almost as large and Allied has around 90 per cent of those sales. Nelson believes that if Allied was allowed to compete in the capital it could add at least 500 vehicles a year to its production line and create around 100 jobs.

After weathering the recession’s storm – Nelson joined in 2007 – turnover has grown from £45m to near £80m this year. Output at its Possilpark factory is on the rise, to as many as 4000 vehicles a year: “We’re trying to get consistently above 85 a week,” he said. 

As basic Peugot vehicles come in, they are virtually stripped back to their shell before being rebuilt and emerging at the other end as taxis or private hire vehicles.
Nelson points out the thoroughness of the rebuild; how it offers able and disabled people a modern mode of transport and their drivers a safe, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective vehicle. 

       

At the end of the process, Allied’s name joins Peugeot’s as a joint-manufacturer under European Community ‘whole vehicle type approval’ regulations. Nelson believes that theirs is simply a better product than the London Taxi Company’s, which is based on a 1940s design.

Adding weight to his argument is that while Boris Johnson might appear to be flying the flag for Britain, the London Taxi Company is now wholly a Chinese company, having been bought out of administration last year by the Hangzhou-based Geely Group. The latter would no doubt argue that its assembly of Chinese parts in Coventry is just as important a contributor to the UK economy as Allied’s rebuilding of a French car in Glasgow.

And Nelson is not interested in waving flags: “We are a UK company, selling throughout the UK. We sponsored UK Trade and Industry during the Olympics and were delighted to see our vehicles on London streets. We just want to be able to compete, for drivers in London to be given a choice. The bottom line is – if he [Johnson] digs his heels in, we may have to take him to court.”

Although its taxis – based on the Peugeot Expert – have played a significant part in the company’s fortunes, its wheelchair adapted five-seater – based on the Peugeot Partner – is its biggest seller, finding favour among private-hire drivers, councils and care-homes. “We changed the face of the hackney market,” said Nelson, “now we are changing the face of the private-hire market as well.”

Nelson pays tribute to the company’s co-chairmen, brothers Gerry and Michael Facenna: “Their aim is to produce the best products in the markets they enter.” Allied recently took on an international development manager to explore options for expansion in Europe. In the nearer-term, it is planning a UK-wide roll-out of its mobility shop concept, based on a recently opened 750,000 square foot showroom nearby offering aids ranging from walking sticks to cars. It also offers a mobility vehicle hire service.

It has also experimented with electric vehicles, building around 200 so far but the cost of batteries puts a question mark over their long-term viability for a company of Allied’s size. Big car-makers effectively subsidise the true cost of their electric models through their marketing departments, the publicity burnishing their green credentials.



That’s not an option for Allied, whose electric car is roughly twice the cost of a recent Peugeot model. But it wants to be a low-carbon business and is exploring options with manufacturers based on hybrid engines and the use of engine ‘stop-start’ technology. “If a vehicle has lower emissions, is more cost-effective to run and is competitively priced then it will sell. Again, it comes down to our chairmen’s view that we should offer the best product possible in the markets we enter.”

The company has the wherewithal to continue its expansion – a night-shift was trialled over the summer – but it depends on getting the people. To this end it is actively engaged in employment initiatives from engineering lessons for primary school children to taking on school-leavers and modern apprentices and retaining skilled workers.

Allied is a UK success-story that surely Boris Johnson should be happy to hail.

Source: Holyrood Magazine

Read more here:

Helen Chapman, LTPH Interim general manager, said: 

“Currently there are two taxi manufacturers, the London Taxi Company and Mercedes Vitos adapted by One80 Ltd, which have a variety of vehicle models that are licensed.

“Some older models of taxis from other manufacturers, which meet the Conditions of Fitness and are approved for use in London, are the Metrocab and Asquith taxi models.

“TfL is also aware of, and working closely with, a number of other vehicle manufacturers 
that are developing new zero emission capable taxis which will also fully meet the Conditions of Fitness.”

3 comments:

raj said...

Awesome they are doing there work very good like to hire there cab when I go to Glasgow.

Tom said...

Should be news from Nissan this week

Martyn oakley said...

dont buy from cabdirect very poor customer service and the peugeot's are a absolute crap vehicle check out the forums